Green Party and civic group share concerns over £260m south Lancaster development plans
A Lancaster civic group has said it believes there were "severe deficiencies" in the way the city council dealt with a major redevelopment scheme for south Lancaster.
Councillors were asked to decide if they supported a £140m Government funding offer linked to major plans for more than 9,000 new homes south of Lancaster, complete with road, drainage, flooding and other infrastructure works.
The plans included elements designed to fit with the development of a new campus at Lancaster University and the proposed new Bailrigg Garden Village, plus other areas and links with the M6.
In the wake of the decision, Lancaster Civic Society has written to the city council's chief executive expressing its concerns - while Lancaster's Green councillors have also expressed their "deep frustration".
A Lancaster Civic Society spokesman said: "This is a huge decision with significant impacts. We understand that by entering into this agreement the city council is now faced with the dilemma of enabling the provision of over 9,000 new homes in south Lancaster or accepting the financial consequences of failing to do so. To date the potential financial consequences for the city council have not been made public.
"Lancaster Civic Society addressed the council [at the meeting] on August 25, asking that any decision on the Collaboration Agreement be deferred to allow time for a consultation process, commensurate with the importance of this issue, to be undertaken.
"We were of the view that there was insufficient information available to come to a reasoned view on whether the Collaboration Agreement should be supported or not.
"Lancaster Civic Society believe that there were serious deficiencies in the way the council dealt with this matter.
"We have made clear our concerns about the lack of information and consultation before the decision was taken, and we consider it regrettable that an attempt was made to exclude the press and public from the entirety of the council debate on the issue.
"Our members are asking questions about the decision and its implications, and we believe this concern to be more widespread.
"It is notable that the only attempt to provide any explanation of the decision taken has been on the part of Lancaster Labour Party. As far as we are aware there have been no public statements by the council to explain the decision or its consequences. This is disappointing.
"Accordingly, Lancaster Civic Society have written to the council chief executive expressing our concerns, and requesting a response to a number of points relating to the decision taken on August 25."
The signing of the agreement will set in motion plans to build more than 9,000 new houses as part of the South Lancaster Growth Catalyst. This means that Lancashire County Council can now begin work on extensive road-building and infrastructure changes to support the development.
The proposal has faced enormous public opposition, with hundreds of emails and letters of objection flooding the council over the past two months, and has divided the political groups that make up the city council.
The Green and Eco-Socialist Independent groups voted against the agreement, as did a majority of Conservative councillors present.
The Lib Dems initially voted to refuse but the other groups, including Labour councillors, in favour.
Coun Caroline Jackson, the Green leader of Lancaster City Council, who voted against the motion, said: “I'm hugely disappointed that councillors have decided to approve this vote despite the many concerns and objections that have been raised.
“Once again we find ourselves in the position of Labour councillors giving their full support to a massive infrastructure project that appears to be riddled with risks and uncertainties that they have chosen to ignore.
“We are in a climate emergency, pledged to reducing our carbon footprint and we urgently need to be thinking differently about how we develop our city. This scheme is business-as-usual not the transformational thinking that Lancaster needs from its councillors."
Green councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox, cabinet member for sustainable economic prosperity, said: “It’s dismaying because councillors had nothing like the required briefing to decide on a whether a scheme of this scale and complexity should go ahead.
"The financial and development viability risks were not evaluated and clearly set out in the report. And the vote went ahead with the legally-binding agreement with Lancashire County Council still in a state of flux.
"Labour’s position had been to say that we needed more time, but they've just voted for it anyway.”
Fellow Green, Coun Gina Dowding, cabinet member for strategic planning, said: “I've been a councillor at city and county levels for many years now, and I can't remember a worse decision made by the council. I’m deeply concerned about what now lies ahead of us.
“Local councillors who voted for this ignored all the warnings about this scheme: it is nothing less than an outdated Conservative Government handout for more roads and induced traffic — while all the risks associated with the new housing will be borne by the local council taxpayers.
"And there are absolutely no guarantees that this will address our real need for affordable housing.”